By Rev. David Valera
Even after living for almost 17 years in the Pacific Northwest, I discovered something about myself. I’m still struggling with drinking water directly from the tap.
Don’t get me wrong; I know that the water in the northwest, specifically in the Seattle area, is good, clean and tasty. A visit to the Cedar River Watershed several years ago educated me on how we get fresh and safe drinking water straight to our homes. And the system is regularly monitored by several government agencies.
So no, it is not the water. It is what I have been taught all those years as I grew up in the Philippines. “Don’t drink water, unless it’s been boiled.” And since chemical treatment and filtration systems were not easily available back then, boiling water was the only way we could be assured of safe drinking water.
I remember our science and health education classes in elementary and high school, reminding us that boiled water is the only safe way to drink H2O. This teaching impacted me all the way to my adult life as a Pastor. When I visited barrios and participated in mission trips, I would rather drink bottled soda than risk drinking water from an unknown source. Back then, bottled water wasn’t a thing yet. Today, there is an abundance of those plastic bottles and they have created a new set of problems!
Of course, boiling water offered its own challenges. A clean and safe cooking utensil is required to complement an adequate heat source. And you can’t cut corners; the water needs to be boiled long enough so that all those disease-causing germs (whose photos and images were always in abundance) are dead.
Next, you need to have patience in waiting for the temperature of boiling water to come down to a level that will be easy on your tongue and throat. That process can take between 30-60 minutes, maybe longer. Unless of course, you are blessed enough to have a refrigerator (and electricity) that quickly brings boiled water down to a refreshing temperature. Of course, you need a pitcher to transfer boiled water into.
What about using ice, you ask? Well, first, let me ask, “was the water used to make the ice boiled or not?” If not, then bacteria and other harmful elements may still be present even after you have frozen the water. Again, I have been taught that you have to boil water in order for it to be safe for human consumption, period.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I arrived home after a walk, thirsty for some fresh ice cool northwest water – (usually stocked in pitchers inside the refrigerator). I open the cupboard, grabbed a big empty glass and opened the fridge. However, all I see is an almost empty pitcher. So, I turned towards the kitchen sink, only to realize that my body paused, almost frozen stiff, staring at the tap. Then I hear a voice in me asks, “What are you up to? Are you going to fill your glass with water from the tap?”
Somehow, something deep inside, kept me from filling my glass directly from the tap.
Here I am, a middle-aged man, educated and informed, in a staring contest with a faucet. Subconsciously, all those early years of not being able to trust the tap have become all too real again.
So what did I do next? I got the almost empty pitcher, filled it with tap water and poured water into my glass. No filter, no boiling. Best tasting water I ever had.
Yes, the water from the pitcher did not have the bland, empty, dead taste of boiled water (I remember that too). The water was refreshing, tasty and so good.
So the real hero in this story is the pitcher. I found it as THE safe space. It was not threatening. It did not carry the stigma of the tap. It provided a way by which my thirst could be quenched. Through it, I got my glass filled with life giving water as God intended.
As I filled my glass with a second serving of fresh tap water, I began to wonder, in what other aspects of my life do I still hold deep-rooted fears? What are the things, that I have been taught or learned to be a threat, which may not be so? What other forms of phobia continue to linger inside of me? How can I overcome them? What “pitchers” might provide a grace to surpass my understanding?
I pray that each local church or faith community becomes a “pitcher of water” to those who are thirsty, struggling, tired, stuck, seeking truth and justice. That God’s love and mercy does not end in the pitcher, but is constantly shared with many. Believing that when we do these things, Jesus continues to fill us with the living water that he promised to those that follow him. (John 7:37)
Rev. David Valera serves as Executive Director of Connectional Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.